Paul Whelan, a former US Marine arrested in Russia on spying charges, is a British citizen, it emerged today
A former US Marine charged with spying on Russia amid claims he was caught with a ‘USB stick containing names of agents’ is a British citizen, it has emerged.
Paul Whelan, 48, was formally charged with espionage in Moscow yesterday amid allegations he procured a memory stick with a secret list of Russian agents.
Mr Whelan, a former US Marine with dual US-UK citizenship, is being held in the notorious Lefortovo jail, a former KGB prison in the Russian capital.
He was accosted at the Metropol hotel, a historic art nouveau building two miles from the Kremlin.
The American Embassy in the Russian capital informed British officials of his arrest and British citizenship. He was born in Canada to British couple, Edward and Rosemary Whelan.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Staff have requested consular access to a British man detained in Russia after receiving a request for assistance.’
The former marine, now head of global security for a US car parts firm, disappeared while in Moscow to attend a wedding, his brother David said.
Whelan was arrested at Moscow’s lavish Metropol Hotel. Russia media have claimed officials ‘found a flash card with secret information’
David, a librarian in Canada, posted a statement from the entire family on Twitter.
It read: ‘We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected’.
His brother David told The Times: ‘Our family is from just outside Birmingham, so we’ve been travelling to the UK to see family, and from early on we travelled to wherever we could, usually in Europe, places that were convenient to England.’
He said it was while searching the internet on Monday that he learned of his brother’s arrest – and he has no idea why Paul was targeted by Russia.
The spying allegations will put further strain on UK-Russia relations after last year’s heightened diplomatic tensions.
A war of words broke out after former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury – with UK intelligence pointing the finger at the Kremlin.
Whelan posted these photos in September showing himself on a Bombardier challenger jet
Russian news agency Rosbalt said Mr Whelan was arrested on Friday, December 28, minutes after the memory stick was passed to him. He will be held in custody until February 28 – but denies all charges of spying.
Mr Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said he visited the jail on Wednesday and found him in a ‘very hopeful’ mood.
Whelan is seen on a prior trip to Russia. He visited regularly for work and pleasure
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. met with him at the Lefortovo Prison the same day.
It is speculated Mr Whelan is being used as a bargaining chip in the case of Maria Butina. Butina, 30, is due to be sentenced in the US after admitting she acted as an illegal Russian agent.
An unidentified Russian security source told Rosbalt Mr Whelan started making Russian friends on the internet a decade ago.
After two years he visited Moscow ‘pretending’ to want to socialise with his new friends.
Rosbalt said: ‘What stood out was that Whelan was not at all interested in pretty Russian girls, preferring instead to spend his time drinking with his male internet friends.’